In the latter half of last year, the name Fora popped up in an incredible number of industry conversations. Whether we were chatting with designers, suppliers, manufacturers or a combination of each, people were eager to know what everybody else knew about this exciting brand. Apparently, this is the next big thing – with amazing expansion plans and a unique approach to coworking.
So we started to do a bit of our research and, as we were doing so, were approached by our friends at HASSELL, who wanted to know if we were interested in looking at their recently completed project for (you’ve guessed it!) Fora.
Of course we said yes (without hesitation) and so we find ourselves ‘south of the river’ on this brisk, sunny morning.
Founded by a global hotel management executive and a London experience entrepreneur, Fora’s mission is to redefine what the term workspace can mean. Co-founded by Enrico Sanna (former Global Head of Operating Assets at Deutsche Bank) and Katrina Larkin (Co-founder of The Big Chill Festival), Fora wants to reimagine the office experience by employing premium hotelstyle service and design, innovative technology and a curated approach to resident activity.
Fora has, in partnership with Brockton Capital, acquired no less than 10 locations in the past 12 months. Owning its properties outright leaves the brand uniquely placed in the sector as it means it can offer a level of flexibility that is unrivalled amongst workspace providers.
Fora’s spaces are designed to be the most inspiring, comfortable and productive work environments on the market. ‘Forget what you know about coworking; Fora is reimagining the entire experience,’ they say. ‘We call it ‘proworking’.’
Fora Borough has been described as the ultimate workspace, with an incredible location directly opposite Borough tube station. Every floor offers breakout space and a fully stocked kitchen, with views across London. We’re sold!
Furthermore, as we enter the Borough space, we’re met by a delicious combination of smells from fresh coffee and baking – and a genuine buzz. A member of Fora’s concierge team immediately greets us (more about them later), asking us if we’re okay and whether they can help us in any way. Spotting HASSELL’s Felicity Roocke and Catherine van der Heide in the cool, open, ground floor lounge space, we gratefully decline any assistance. There’s so much going on here, with all senses being ‘attacked’ – in a very good way.
We take a seat and a coffee with Felicity and Catherine (it feels wrong not to!) and begin by asking about the origins of HASSELL’s relationship with Fora. ‘We were working with Brockton Capital, doing marketing test-fits and due diligence – and through that relationship got to know Fora,’ Felicity recalls.
‘We were tasked with producing something here that was totally different – they didn’t want this design to look or feel like their original start-up philosophy, which was exposed brick, black metal frames and the café aesthetic that runs throughout New York, London – throughout the whole world now.
‘Even though we do have some of those elements here, we had to redefine what that meant. So we looked at the design and the experience and tried to be light, refreshing – no low contrast, no black, apart from the restaurant, which is very much a different concept, designed by JLK to reflect the Borealis brand. We’ve used bold colours and introduced the local signature. Every Fora resident will find consistent fundamentals, while every arrival/social space or roof terrace space will have signature areas from the local area and the local community – so we used lots of colour here to represent Borough Market. They’ve got 14 locations on the go at the moment, so they are moving very fast!’
‘They demand a high level of design throughout,’ Catherine tells us. ‘They also pay particular attention to the levels of service – they want people to walk in here and immediately belong.’
The Fora dedicated concierge teams work hard to make sure things run smoothly for all residents and their guests, with team members trained in partnership with L’École Hôtelière de Lausanne. We call that going above and beyond – and from what we’ve encountered so far, it certainly pays off.
‘They also have something called Fora Life – where they have partnerships with coworking around the world,’ Felicity reveals. ‘So if you are going to, say, New York, you can simply talk to a concierge and they can hook you up with a desk in one of their partner organisations. It really all is designed to make your life easier – all you have to do is be brilliant at work! Everything else is taken care of for you. And they’re doing it really successfully. They have 100% occupancy here within six months of opening – and they didn’t have to work too hard to fill it. This has become their benchmark. The design principles here will carry through to other locations.
‘We really had to look closely at what we were doing with the design principles here. Originally this building shell had siloed transitional space, retail units, office lobby, revolving door, coworking – and never the blurring of amenities. A lot of the upfront thinking and talking – and this is something we’ve done for coworking environments in Australia and Singapore before – was to look to break down that transactional nature of space and create vibrancy, connected space and desirable space. This is something that hotels have done – where you have the entrance and lobby and café and restaurant all combining; there’s a real blurring of boundaries. It’s pretty basic stuff when you think about it, but it just doesn’t seem to happen that much here. We didn’t want that static reception. We didn’t want barriers.’
‘This was very much the first test of the design principles – so we were constantly evaluating as we were doing the design presentation,’ Catherine tells us. ‘It was actually a really nice way to work.’
While researching Fora, we did notice that a couple of words we wouldn’t normally associate with coworking came up again and again – wellness being very much to the fore.
On-site wellness facilities here at Borough include a premium gym and dedicated personal trainers, while residents have access to a spectacular top floor lounge with impressive terraces and skyline views, and an amazing ground floor destination restaurant –Borealis – by restaurateur Soren Jessen (from where a number of those lovely aromas we spoke of earlier originated).
‘Up on Level 5 there is an events space – and Katrina curates a series of events,’ Felicity continues. ‘What they’ve also done is talked to the residents and asked them what events they’d like to host, so that interaction between residents start to happen.’
‘They also host parties – we’ve held our own functions here,’ Catherine reveals. ‘People can use the restaurant, so there’s a real mix of things going on, not just for the residents but also involving the wider neighbourhood and community. They do that really well.’
We head up to the aforementioned Level 5 space. In contrast to the ground floor, there is plenty of natural light, resulting in a bright, multifunctional facility that can be used for presentations, events and even private dining. There is, of course, state-of-the-art technology throughout, from secure superfast fibre Wi-Fi, through to the Fora app and residents’ platform. We’re also told that all the kitchens are fully stocked, while bathroom and shower facilities come complete with the finest wellbeing products.
‘This level has a brilliant two-sided terrace,’ Felicity reveals. ‘While, immediately below here is an outdoor workspace – probably the best workspace in the entire building, in the right weather! It has outdoor plug-in points and is so nice in summer.’
Moving back inside, we take the stairs up to a mezzanine level where we discover a real ‘hidden gem’ in the shape of the Reading Room. With bookshelves curated by Foyles, the facility allows residents to escape and relax. ‘We were given this double-height void and I think this is a really nice way of occupying it,’ Felicity smiles. ‘It is completely private. I think the dressing is really important here, with cool LP covers on the wall and a functioning record player. Residents can borrow the books or just relax. I think this is one of my favourite spots.
‘It was important that we dressed everything in this building in the right way. No-one here wants to work in a cold, corporate office with fluorescent lighting – they want to work in a residentially-inspired hospitality environment – but a professionally curated one. That’s why, even with the finishes in the ‘office’ floors, we have ensured that the amenities, the lounge, the phone booths – all the sharing facilities – have great daylight, the right materiality and don’t feel enclosed or separated. We wanted to use signature elements that you won’t find in corporate spaces. We always want to do stuff that’s different. This is about producing a comfortable, authentic environment.’
And that’s exactly what’s been achieved here. From Borealis through to the Reading Room, this is an original, authentic coworking space. Would we want to work here? To quote some lads from London, ‘All day and all of the night’!